Warming Up with January JCS

Greetings.  The weather is nippy but we keep ourselves warm, in body and spirit, at our monthly Jewish Cultural School sessions.  Here’s what happened in January.

The Littles Group – PreK – Kindergarten, teacher Josh Kaplan

This week at JCS we learned about mitzvot. We talked about how doing good one good deed can lead to more good deeds, and about all of the different actions that count as a mitzvah. We drew pictures of mitzvot we have done, or could do, and we read a story about helping others.


The Middles Group, grades 1 – 3, teacher Colline Roland

coming soon

The Juniors Group, grades 4-5, teacher Renee Dorman

In January, the Juniors group studied the history of redlining in the Twin Cities. This discriminatory practice effected Jews as well as people of color for much of the 20th century. You can check out the resource we used at the link below.  Here is some of the text from their site describing  a map prepared by the Home Owners Loan :

“As shown on this HOLC map, ‘Hazardous’ red areas were often comprised of people of color, immigrant groups and Jews, and in those places the government dissuaded the underwriting of loans. Yellow areas were also less favorable, deemed ‘Declining’, while blue ‘Desirable’ and especially green ‘Best’ areas became mostly likely to have loans underwritten. HOLC maps were made in most medium and large cities across the United States, and in 1934, like in other cities, this map was commissioned by local public and private officials.”

After discussing this issue, we made our own All Are Welcome Here signs in English and Hebrew to fight against xenophobic attitudes. We also practiced writing in Hebrew, including both vowels and consonants.



The B’Mitzvah Group, grades 6-7, teacher Eva Cohen

Our January lesson focused on thinking critically about biblical law. After our usual Hebrew conversation warm-up and an introduction to how the Torah transitions from the narrative of escape from Egypt to God’s transmission of many laws to Moses on Mount Sinai, students read most of Exodus 20, the first chapter in the Torah that details the commands that later tradition comes to understand as the Ten Commandments. They compared this chapter with a list of the Ten Commandments, marking the Exodus 20 text to show where each commandment was extracted. Then we had a discussion about the differences between the meanings that these ‘commandments’ held for their ancient authors and the meanings that they acquired in later tradition (the second commandment, for example, “You shall have no other gods before me,” assumes that other gods exist but that only one should be worshipped; monotheism–belief in the existence of only one God–developed later on in Judaism). After this discussion, students took part in an activity where they walked to one side of the room or the other depending on whether they thought each commandment should or should not apply broadly to people today. This activity prompted interesting ethical conversation about the importance of not dictating whether people should or should not believe in a specific deity, about whether abusive parents should be honored, and a range of other topics. We took a snack break, and after coming together again as a group, students folded origami versions of the ‘Tablets of the Law,’ decorated them, and then brainstormed and shared their own lists of Humanistic Jewish Ten Commandments. We closed the lesson by looking at some laws from the Code of Hammurabi, an ancient Babylonian law code that clearly influenced later Torah law, even though it was written at least a thousand years before the laws in the Torah. Students noted parallels as well as divergences between selections from Hammurabi’s Code and Leviticus 24:17-22, observing how the Code seems to set up harsher punishments for people who harm members of the aristocracy, while the Leviticus 24 laws make punishment serious and equal for anyone who harms a person of any class from within or outside the community. We will continue to think about these comparisons and contrasts as we expand on our study of biblical law and its ethical implications during our February class.

December JCS & Hanukkah Party!

Greetings, and Happy 2020

Here are summaries from each of our teachers of their December, 2019 Jewish Cultural School lessons.  One week later, our annual Hanukkah Party was held, with photos to bear witness to the great time had by all.

Littles Group, Pre-school – Kindergarten, teacher Josh Kaplan: 

This week was all about Hanukkah! We practiced the song we will sing for our Hanukkah Party, we learned about dreidels, we practiced lighting a play-menorah, we colored and we read our favorite Hanukkah book: Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins. We also welcomed a visitor this week who fit right in with the class!

Middles Group – First – Third Grade, teacher Colline Roland

Today we continued our monthly mitzvah and made Hanukkah cards and Star of David ornaments to give to a senior care facility. We also read a story book and learned all about the story of Hanukkah.

Juniors Group, Grades 4 – 5, teacher Renee Dorman

In December, the Juniors group talked about the issue of underrepresentation of minority groups, and how it applies to Judaism as well as other non-Christian religions. We took a small step toward changing this norm by imagining a Hanukkah celebration into our favorite stories. Students were encouraged to pick whatever story world they wanted, from Minecraft to Percy Jackson and beyond. We pretended to be a character celebrating Hanukkah and wrote a letter about our imagined celebration. Students also had the opportunity to illustrate the scene. We closed the lesson with a few rounds of Hebrew letter bingo.

B’Mitzvah Prep Group, grades 6-7, teacher Eva Cohen

Our December lesson focused on preparing for Chanukah. After our usual Hebrew conversation practice, students spent practiced writing their Hebrew names in block letters and script. Then, after a brief overview of the history of ancient Israel, the class divided up roles and acted out a historically-grounded Chanukah play retelling the story of the Maccabean revolt and the origins of Chanukah as a holiday. Students voted perform this play as their class Chanukah party presentation, reviewed a Chanukah song they sing at Chanukah party with Sarah, and wrote funny arguments to take positions in the great latke-hamantaschen debate. We rounded out the lesson with practice speaking and writing Hebrew (and some Yiddish) holiday vocabulary terms, and then brainstormed issues to make the focus of our tikkun olam letter-writing campaigns to state and federal legislators in early 2020.


2019 Or Emet Hanukkah Party







First Day of 2018-2019 Jewish Cultural School

On September 16, 26 students, ages 3 through 12, attended our first session of the year.  Among other activities, each group created a decoration to be used at our Sukkot Party on Sunday, September 30, 11:00 AM at the St. Paul JCC. We had a few absentees, and room for more, so please join us – contact me at arty@oremet.org.

Here’s a first look at our lively classes.

The Littles (Pre-school – Kindergarten) with teacher Josh Kaplan


The Middles, grades 1 – 3, with teacher Colline Roland


The Juniors, Grades 4 – 5, with teacher Renee Dorman and teacher aide Ian Zukor I


The Pre B’Mitzvah class, grades 6-7, holding their Jewish New Year resolutions. (not in photo, teacher Eva Cohen)





Radical Islam Comment

I have made comments like this before, so forgive me, but I have been studying religious fundamentalists for quite a few years. The recent brutal beheading of journalist James Foley shows one characteristic of radical fundamentalists of all religions: They don’t care what a person who is an Outsider might have done or what he or she supported. James Foley had done nothing. Rather all they care about is who he “is”. In this case, an American. The chilling corollary of this is that there is now a worldwide ideology that gives perhaps a few million dislocated young Muslim men (only a tiny percentage of all Sunni Muslims) a rationale for venting their rage indiscriminately and with righteous justification on all outsiders — all who are not members of the tribe of true believers into which they have retreated in their escape back to a reconstituted delusional world of 7th Century greatness. Feeling humiliated by the failure of their own cultures to be inventors of the powerful new world or indeed to be really successful in modernity on their own terms. they have experienced instead that success in the modern world requires becoming pale derivatives of the West. Coming from a proud past, and wanting their own identity, this is galling to them. Feeling both humiliated by cultural failures to be “great” anymore and by feeling derivative if they seek “modern” success, these factors combine to deeply enrage them. This rage is so all-consuming that it seeks no specific target, but rather seeks to lash out at the entire outside world. (Yes. They will target those whose presence and success is especially humiliating,like America and Israel.) The radical Islamist ideology gives them a long-sought rationale for venting rage against all who are not them. So they slaughter all others — Secular Sunnis, Christians, French, Americans, Brits, Jews, Israelis, etc., and their ancient enemies the Shiites too, and feel entirely justified.

Radical Islamists are present in numbers (even if small percentages) in every Muslim country (or Muslim area of other countries such as in the Sahel) and in numbers in every Western country. Thanks to social media, though dispersed they can function as a singular force. Not since the Nazis have we seen anything so terrifying or of this scale.